Life doesn’t pause when you’re going through menopause. I still want to be dynamic in my meetings but I also want to go unnoticed. The pressure to succeed weighs heavily on my shoulders!
In the last few months, I have begun to be vocal about menopause and how debilitating it can be at work. So, I was delighted to be asked to put pen to paper – or fingers to keys – and spill the beans on one of life’s mysteries. But here I am at 10 p.m. the night before submitting my copy, with no more than fresh air and cotton wool in my head, and thoughts of my next sweet fix obscuring any relevant blog-worthy comment.
A Day in the Life of Menopause
- Donuts eaten – 2 (that I’ll admit to. Do I need to include the cake and Haribo if I mention the donuts?)
- Hot sweats – 4
- Hair restyles and makeup reapplied – 4
- Brain fog – did someone ask me a question?
- Crying spells – 2 (reasons – 0!)
- Hours slept – 4
- Desire to lie down and sleep on desk – every flaming minute!
- Deals closed – 3
- Meetings – 5
- Follow-ups – 5
- Extra internal initiatives – 2
Colleagues who noticed any of the above – 0!
I’m currently going through perimenopause which, for me, has all the glamorous joys of full-blown menopause: hot sweats, bloating, fatigue, and mood swings to name a few.
It’s sometimes impossible to navigate these symptoms while working full-time. But I still have to meet my targets and deadlines at work, and maintain (or feign!) an air of professionalism as much as I can.
The Silence is Deafening
If I were pregnant, this state of affairs would be accepted and understood by everyone. “Go and lie down, take a day to look after yourself!” they would say. But as a 50-year-old woman with very similar symptoms, I feel pressure to keep quiet about this time of my life, and these changes to my body over which I have no control.
That silence is overwhelming in the workplace, especially when you are in a male-dominated field. I fear that I’ll lose value in the eyes of my male or younger female colleagues. I worry I may be asked for my opinion less, or get overlooked for promotion or a pay rise.
Sometimes, I have accepted being spoken down to by men and regarded suspiciously by fresh-faced women in the flush of youth. Why? Because I believed they could see my discomfort and would call me out on my obvious onset of middle-aged madness. I worried they would doubt my ability to do my job.
Speaking About Menopause
Having fought my whole life to be relevant in my space and to have my voice heard, it’s devastating to experience a huge loss of confidence. I often lose my train of thought mid-sentence in a meeting. I’ll suffer excruciating anxiety before a presentation, or suddenly become paralyzed with self-doubt. People have surely noticed how thin my hair has suddenly become, and that makes me long to be invisible. At times, it is totally debilitating.
In many ways, lockdown has been a blessing in disguise because I can deal with my symptoms more easily, particularly my hot flashes. These happen suddenly, and without warning. As soon as I begin to overheat the flash comes over me like a wave and I visibly perspire. But then, just as quickly, my body temperature will reverse and I feel like I’m in the Antarctic.
Whenever I had an in-person meeting pre-lockdown, I had to plan my clothes for the day. I’d even check the weight of my bag to make sure nothing would contribute to the overheating. But I didn’t have a warmer backup outfit so would have to suffer the utter pain of cold later.
But this year I turned 50 and made the decision to no longer be silent about my menopause. I’m willing to risk the misogynistic jibes (though admittedly I hide my embarrassment behind jokes). But I have decided to own this. To saddle the elephant in the room and stampede through the silence!
Ending the Stigma of Menopause
So what needs to change? The embarrassment. The silence. The lack of understanding. Women need to feel safe to share their experience and ask for help if they need it. Only by speaking up about our struggle can we begin to break the taboo. So what am I doing? I am shouting it from the rooftops!
I am also launching a podcast with one of my best (also menopausal) friends, even though we don’t know anything about making podcasts! We’re giving it a go because it’s important to inform and support others – women and men. I don’t want my son to think of me as a shrivelling light, but to understand what I’m dealing with. That way he can be an ally to his colleagues when they experience it. And when his wife is going through menopause, I hope the stigma is no longer there.
I also want menopause to be covered in health education at schools, and for doctors to provide more information and support to help us all through it.
Starting the Conversation
And so in the spirit of transparency and starting the conversation… I am Katie, a mother, step-mother, wife, and full-time sales manager.
Sometimes I have to switch my camera off mid-meeting, feigning technical difficulties, because I start to cry for no reason, or can’t stop yawning due to a lack of sleep. I’d avoid group presentations if I could for fear of brain fog descending, making me trip over my words. I’m currently on antidepressants to boost the serotonin levels in my body. I also take six vitamins every day to try and regulate the internal chaos!
I have to get up early because it now takes me at least 30 minutes for my creased face to rearrange itself into something that resembles normal. That’s before I tackle the hour-long performance of getting ready for work and trying to appear like a fully functioning adult. Makeup is my new best friend (except when it slides off during a hot flash). While sweat drips off my forehead, I have to regularly fill up my hot water bottle slippers for my freezing cold feet. And I am always one snack away from waddling.
Despite all this, I still turn up, I still perform and I still deliver at work. But there are many days when just getting out of bed is winning.
Have you struggled with menopausal symptoms at work? What can our colleagues do to help us through this stage in life? Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts in the comments, below.
Hear more about both Katie and Emerald Publishing’s Erika Valenti’s experience of menopause in The Good Practice Podcast.